By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff Writer
BATON ROUGE – The handful of people who remained at Park Forest Baptist Church in Baton Rouge after the great flood of 2016 asked for help to revitalize their dying congregation. The Church at Addis enthusiastically stepped in and a true revival has ensued for the once-ailing Park Forest.
“Our mission statement is pretty simplistic – serving God by serving others,” said Thomas Shepard, pastor of the Church at Addis. “We are going out and doing what we can to reach our community.”
DISCIPLESHIP BY SOCIAL MEDIA
Since taking over what is now the Church at Park Forest in September, attendance at its Sunday morning worship services has increased from nine to 35. Shepard attributes much of the growth to the discipleship method used at the Church at Addis.
Through social media, a member invites his or her friends to log onto Facebook to participate in studies about parenting, marriage and finances. Once the users complete the sessions, members then invite the friends to another study at the Church at Addis.
By using this approach, the Church at Addis has grown from 12 people when Shepard took over — what was then First Baptist Church in Addis — in 2010 to 650 at its worship services in mid-July. True Hope Baptist Church, its African-American church plant in Plaquemine, has seen attendance increase from 8 when it started two years ago to 80 in mid-July.
Baptisms at both locations from January to June totaled 50.
“We are using an intentional approach where our members become evangelistic,” Shepard said. “The studies are relevant to people’s lives and we use them as a way to get them in the door to our church. This has produced a clear segue into introducing a person to Christ in a non-threatening way.”
When Shepard received the request for his church to oversee operations of Park Forest Baptist, he surveyed the health of the church. Quickly, he discovered they were no longer using methods to reach the community and younger generation.
Once they began holding worship services, the format was altered from traditional to a blend of contemporary songs with the hymns of old. Shepard said the change has been well received by the original members, and is a reflection of their willingness to do whatever it takes to reach their community for Christ.
GROWTH SET FOR THE FUTURE
The Church at Park Forest has continued to meet in a trailer until renovations are completed on its worship facility, which was deluged with 38 inches of water during the August 2016 flood. Samaritan’s Purse and the Provisions Project, a post-disaster rebuilding non-profit organization based out of Baton Rouge, have provided financial assistance, and the West Baton Rouge Parish Work Release Center and the Church at Addis have provided volunteers to work on the renovations that are almost done.
“People are out there in search of that community life and a place of belonging,” said Ernest Swanson, campus pastor of the Church at Park Forest. “Once we can open those doors on the building, the next phase of the growth can take place.”
The church’s outreach has included spending time at a laundromat to pay for customers’ laundry. This act of kindness opened the door for a Gospel conversation, and added two prospects to its membership rolls.
Similar outreach efforts will be commonplace once the renovated building reopens, Swanson contends.
“When you have people who want to stand in the gap and get involved in what we are doing, God will provide us with the kind of people we need to tackle the mission ahead,” Swanson said. When I first walked in and there were nine people sitting in the congregation, I thought ‘What have I gotten myself into,’” he continued. “I now sit back and tell God, ‘Wow, you let me be part of this.’ I believe with all my heart the Church at Park Forest will be redeemed and restored to its former glory. They are very mission minded with an understanding the church is not about a clubhouse you run, but about letting the Holy Spirit help you reach out.”